Let's face it: You're smart, but not always. The wear and tear of organizational life can dumb down even the most dedicated of superstars.

That's because the human brain is exposed to more challenges today than at any time in history. We have more information to process, more  decisions to make, and more stress to control.

Small wonder we don't spout brilliance 24/7.

But what if I told you that there are ways to produce micro-surges of brilliance several times a day--not only within yourself, but also in others?

Brilliance is not accidental

  • That problem's been a splinter in your mind. But you step into the shower and a solution suddenly coalesces. The feeling of possibility gives you a surge of energy.
  • You're out for dinner with a friend. Something she says causes you to see an innovative adjacency between two previously disconnected ideas. You realize this idea is going to positively impact your future in a big way. 
  • A negotiation is mired until you spot something at the very edges of your mind--a solution to harmonize competing needs and move everything forward quickly.

All of these moments of epiphany may seem magical, capricious, unpredictable, and almost accidental. But they're not.

This is what happens when you have "the big release."

And that release is the micro-surge of brilliance you experience when a trifecta of high-performance hormones floods your  brain: dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin.

Behind "the big release"

So what helps create moments of brilliance for you? 

  1. Dopamine: the motivation molecule
    When you activate dopamine in your brain, your "seeking drive" surges, your motivation revs up, and the resources you need to achieve the rewards that matter are immediately accessible: creativity, intuition, and goal-orientation.
  2. Oxytocin: the connection chemical
    Activate oxytocin and strong social skills are uploaded. Your ability to connect with people amps up and you get what you need to be adept and appropriate in relationships: rapport-building, trust-creation, and bonding skills.
  3. Serotonin: the confidence chemical
    Without serotonin, the effect of dopamine and oxytocin in your brain would be muted and numb. Activating serotonin turns up the signal strength of its two allies, giving you a super-charged blend of motivation and connection. This produces a powerful effect: You feel confident, almost unstoppable. Your sense of agency is boosted, and you access all you need to muzzle your inner critic: optimism, belief, and self-efficacy.

These hormones can put a smile on your face and even make you tingle with pleasure. 

But there's also a side to them that's all business: fueling your heuristics mojo so you can see things in surprising new ways.

Brain hacks for brilliance on demand

These three brain hacks can help you release a flood of dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin, and achieve brilliance on demand. 

In essence, they are simple questions that:

  • you can ask yourself in any situation, and
  • should be hardwired into your vocabulary. 

And here's an unexpected bonus: You can use these questions to do a benevolent brain hack, releasing brilliance in others.

  1. Ask "What's possible here?" 
    It's not reward that releases a flow of dopamine in the brain (as scientists used to believe): it's the promise of reward.  

    When you highlight the sense of promise, possibility, or potential in yourself or others, you release a jolt of dopamine.


  2. Ask "What matters most to me in this situation?" 
    When you make a connection with someone on what matters most, you release oxytocin in your brain and theirs.

    In every conversation, there are three or four things that matter. But there is only one thing that matters most. Connect on that and you release rapport, trust, bonding, and superb social skills.


  3. Ask "How might we...?" (and insert the possibility statement that matters most in the blank)  
    When you focus on past wins and what made them work, you pull confidence forward into your current reality. When you chunk down a challenge rather than trying to boil the ocean, you release belief and agency.

    When you ask the famous "How might we...?" question used by seasoned innovators, you get the big release: a trifecta of motivation, connection, and confidence that can spark brilliant ideas.


The micro-surges of brilliance you create with these powerful questions can energize your brain, lead to groundbreaking innovations, deepen your relationships, and--ultimately--boost business results.

Published on: May 31, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.